Today would have been the 69th birthday of Nesta Robert Marley, better known to the masses as Bob Marley, who is a figurehead and immortal iconic image to not only the sounds and sights of Reggae music, which he helped pioneer and make more accessible to the planet, but also as a metaphoric, literal, approachable, and tangible symbol of hope and peace, of positive energy, of having one reach into one’s self and soul and try to pull out all the greatness that one can muster up, with his music and timeless messages.
He wasn’t the first artist to make Reggae music for sure, as there were scores upon scores of artists in his native homeland of Jamaica and beyond those nether regions who also preached and taught the tenets of its colorful bass heavy, hi-hat laden, tick-tock guitar arrangements, infusing a kind of color chart mixture of religion, faith, spirituality, and opinions on the politic of the local, national, global, and universal lands. But Bob Marley became the most well-known artist to come from that place, and the most successful in teaching and preaching it, but most importantly and crucially, never soapboxing or doing it in a holier-than-thou stance, of the messages of peace and love, which in his capable hands, made it rise from the banality of pretentiousness and obviousness on its intrinsic levels to an all-together communal atmosphere which brought him and the listener to a transcendent plane.
One of Marley’s secrets is that he seemed like a pied piper, a shamanic figure in a sense, a poet and prophet who included the world along on the ride. He was the Captain of a gigantic vessel that could house everybody who wanted to ride on it, and ions upon ions of fans, some obsessively beloved and followers of the man’s ways, jumped on board. With his self being mired in being a Rastafarian, and also promoting a kind of lifestyle in which a certain type of apparel and dreadlocked hairstyle, mixed with the messages, and coupled with a constant ingestion of marijuana (“reefer” as the slang terminology went), created a kind of idyllic existence for Marley and many of his fans. There was a kind of placid, easy going approach to Bob Marley and his execution of all things verbal and musical, and fans felt a comfort zone in which to reside in.
Marley exposed himself and his soul tenfold, but he didn’t do it in a way like a John Lennon or a Jim Morrison, where you also got the somewhat total package in the art they gave you, but also did it with a certain unease, as if exposing themselves to the multitudes of fans meant that a jagged mirror was meant to be shown as well. Their rough reflections, sometimes had to be ones we had to come to terms with within ourselves, be it beauty or agony, betwixt with surreal dizzying pain. With Bob Marley, he too showed us ourselves, but didn’t ask us to get raw and metaphorically naked; he gave one time, he unrolled the scrolls, and gave no timetable for one to read them. His urgency ironically lay in the fact of not being urgent, and the relaxed vibe he manifested then, and to this day, is still one of the most revered and beloved facets of his personality, and why he remains one of the most important and well-known figures in all of music history.
Many of his classic songs, “Get Up, Stand Up,” “Could You Be Loved,” “Is This Love,” “One Love,” “Caution,” “Buffalo Solidier,” “Jamming,” and “No Woman, No Cry,” are reggae classics and remain world classics. His anthology record, the extremely aptly named Legend, has been the opening musical salvo for many listeners who were green when it came to reggae, and it remains one of that genre’s most popular releases and finest hours. One would be extremely hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t have it rotate through their musical collections at one time. But the Marley catalog is an adventurous, sprawling, well intentioned, and thought out master class of showmanship, musicianship, and ultimately for the listener, friendship. Marley’s infectious spirit of sincerity catches the listener instantly, like a fireball made out of a rainbow-colored liquid, drenching and making the listener catch on fire simultaneously. It’s no accident that a key Marley record in his oeuvre is named Catch A Fire. Again, the name implying a suggestion, a kind of respect for the listener, again, a huge part of the Bob Marley appeal.
Although he has been long since gone in his physical form when he succumbed to cancer on May 11th 1981 at the tender age of 36, Marley’s influence and presence still abounds like a caravan, traveling through the four corners of the earth and remaining there. The world mourns him daily and laments over the fact that he’s no longer with us, but the messages he gave to the world, which reached universal heights not many other artists have ever been able to attain, have made the world a better place for birthing him, having him here the short time he was, and ultimately, he remains a man who was an ideal for a world that always needed idealism and always will. It’s only when people like Bob Marley are no longer part of this earth is one reminded just how large the void of him not being here is and how important the messages he imparted on us really were and are. Remember the great, mighty Bob Marley today, “catch his fire” indeed.